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Streak of jackpot winners is bad luck for Powerball lottery sales

Mar 16, 2005, 10:45 am

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Sales of Powerball lottery tickets across the nation are down drastically in recent months.  The reason: People are too frequently beating the odds, which happen to be 1 in 120.5 million.

In the past 12 weeks, players have won a record five Powerball jackpots, none larger than a mere $41 million.

The streak of luck has meant the jackpots don't roll over enough times to build the huge prizes of $100 million or more.  It's those giant amounts that bring out the lines of people who don't normally play and send ticket sales through the roof.

"The game is getting hit way too often," said Joe Willingham, marketing director for the South Dakota Lottery.

It's a difference of more than $3 million for South Dakota's state treasury so far this fiscal year.

Nationally, Powerball sales are off an average of 20 percent from one year ago, according to Chuck Strutt, executive director for the Multi-State Lottery Association, the organization that administers Powerball and several other lotto numbers games.

"Everybody is down," Strutt said Monday in an interview.  "I guess that says people would rather dream of winning than actually winning."

Twenty-seven states plus the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands comprise MUSL.  The sales decline ranges from 12 to 30 percent, he said.

Since July 1 there have been 11 jackpots hit.

There were only 11 hit during the entire preceding 12 months from mid-2003 through June 30, 2004, and four of those ranged from $191 million to $261 million.

Powerball sales in South Dakota are down 27 percent compared to a similar point in 2004.  For the 2005 fiscal year that began July 1, sales total $7.7 million, a decline of $3.1 million.

Oddly, sales are up in the state for the three other numbers games - Dakota Cash, Hot Lotto and Wild Card - by 9.8 to 36 percent.  But because Powerball sales represent three-fourths of all lotto sales in South Dakota, the lottery's total sales are down 17 percent.

One thing to keep in mind is that Powerball sales were extremely strong in 2003 through much of 2004.  MUSL's Strutt said the current downturn is about 10 percent from normal.

Among South Dakota's neighboring states, Wyoming is the only one that doesn't offer Powerball.  North Dakota began selling Powerball tickets last March 25.

"North Dakota has had an effect for specific retailers," lottery spokesman Mike Mueller said.  "Our retailers in towns close to the border have experienced anywhere from 20 percent to 80 percent declines since North Dakota started selling."

But, he added, the effect is "negligible" on total sales because most of South Dakota's sales are in more-populated areas elsewhere in the state.

"We originally estimated that North Dakota could have a 1.5 percent to 2 percent impact on sales.  What is making it tough to gauge is we had our best lotto sales year in a decade last year, and our sales would be down this year anyway with our lack of big Powerball jackpot runs," Mueller said.

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